Mini-budget fate in the balance

The opposition’s objection to the three budget proposals will not be easy for the government to handle

Editorial February 01, 2019

Amendments in the finance bill proposed by the government on January 23 — i.e. the second mini-budget of the fiscal year 2019 — have still to pass through the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly’s budget session had to be adjourned by the Speaker for an indefinite period in the wake of the pandemonium in the House sparked off by the opposition’s allegations against the government on the Sahiwal incident and the government’s counteraction. In the balance, thus, is the fate of the Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019.

In what could further delay the passage of the mini-budget, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance has rejected three key proposals of the finance bill related to ‘controversial’ tax recoveries on offshore assets, tax concessions to sports franchises, and sale of automobiles to non-filers of tax returns. The standing committee was also irked by the absence of Finance Minister Asad Umar and other top officials of the government’s economic team from its meeting that was held to discuss the budget proposals, prior to their presentation in the Senate for approval. The committee cancelled the inaugural session of its meeting in protest. The attitude of the government’s economic team even embarrassed the treasury members, with PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz agreeing that it was not just sabotaging the good environment of the standing committee but also the finance bill that promised an economic turnaround.

The opposition’s objection to the three mentioned budget proposals will not be easy for the government to handle, especially those related to tax recoveries on offshore assets and tax concessions to sports franchises. Both carry a clear conflict of interest. One of the proposals will, on approval, benefit Prime Minister Imran Khan’s elder sister Aleema Khan who has been revealed to hold offshore assets, while the other one will help Ali Tareen, the son of PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen, avail tax concession on his PSL franchise Multan Sultans. The mini-budget, thus, faces an uncertain fate.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2019.

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